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A referendum on Feb.11 will give students an opportunity to vote and establish a new student union, or keep the incumbent Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO).

The call for a referendum came in response to protests by the student body and Board of Governors. The University of Ottawa stated their intention to dissolve their agreement with the SFUO in late September, following a string of financial mismanagement allegations against the union’s executive, maintaining that stance following an audit of the allegations by PwC.

David Graham, vice-president academic and provost of the U of O told the Fulcrum in a phone interview that while “ PwC is a highly-respected international firm,” the audit did not provide the university administration “with sufficient confidence to be able to restore the link with the federation.”

“As you know, it was the breaking of that bond of trust and confidence that caused us to make the difficult decision to terminate the agreement with SFUO,” he said.

The referendum will be overseen by an independent elections committee, headed by former university ombudsperson Lucie Allaire. It will take place entirely online using a third-party electronic voting system provided by Dominion Voting.

Prospective unions had until Jan. 15 to state their interest and register with the elections committee. A campaign period is expected to begin shortly and will include several all-candidate debates on issues U of O students face.

An official list of candidate unions has not yet been released to the public, but some organizations have already begun campaigning on campus.

The SFUO will attempt to maintain its position as the undergraduate union and has pledged to implement new financial accountability mechanisms. Running against them is the University of Ottawa Student Union (UOSU) and Ottawa Undergraduate Student Association (OUSA) — two upstart organizations that were formed in fall 2018.

The UOSU has already published a draft constitution that replaces the executive with the general assembly as the decision-making body of the union. Their broader platform includes a commitment to free expression and decentralization of power within the union.

The OUSA has also expressed interest in being on the ballot with a platform based on making the union more affordable for students. This includes an opt-out option for the U-Pass, reduced health plan spending, and the return of club funding.

The election will use an automated run-off voting system. Voters will be allowed to rank all candidate unions on their ballot, and several instant rounds of voting will take place. The union with the least votes will be eliminated and its votes redistributed to the voter’s next ranked option until one union has a majority. This technique prevents vote splitting and removes the confusion of strategic voting.  Each voter must rank all available options, and there will not be an option to vote for no student union.

“Our primary consideration all along has been ensuring that students are represented by an organization that really does ensure that our undergraduate students have the quality of representation to which they’re entitled, and frankly for which they’ve paid,” Graham told the Fulcrum.

“In other words, that they’re represented by an organization that’s really committed in facts and not just paper to putting in place and respecting the principles of sound financial management, good governance, transparency, accountability, due process that is committed to treating its employees with care, and respect, and fairness, and that really gives students the level of service to which we completely continue to believe they are entitled.”

The SFUO currently maintains an interim agreement with the university administration and will continue to provide student services until a new union is fully established.


With files from Matt Gergyek.